UK: Scotland Police ends practice of marking people with HIV as ‘contagious’ in intelligence database

Police Scotland to stop recording HIV status in database

Police Scotland has said it will stop marking people with HIV as “contagious” in their intelligence database after reviewing the procedure.

A charity uncovered the practice and raised concerns that it could lead to discrimination.

HIV Scotland said the change was “welcome news”, but that “questions still remain”.

Police Scotland said it had amended its policy, and that HIV status would be removed and no longer logged.

The practice was uncovered after HIV Scotland wrote to the force asking if they held information on a person’s HIV status, and if the information was stored under an “infectious” marker.

The police responded that the “contagious” marker was applied to anyone who they had received relevant intelligence about.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Speirs wrote that “having identified this practice, and in line with current policy on the Criminal History System (CHS) and the Police National Computer (PNC) where HIV is not recorded, I have instructed that this is immediately reviewed”.

In a later letter, police confirmed that following a review it had amended its practice and policy and now “no longer records HIV status on SID (Scottish Intelligence Database) within the contagious indicator field.”

About 97% of those living with HIV in Scotland are on effective treatment and therefore have an undetectable viral load, which means they cannot pass HIV on to others.

‘Not contagious’

HIV Scotland’s chief executive Nathan Sparling said: “Clearly this is welcome news from Police Scotland, but questions still remain.

“Will they review activity that has led to people living with HIV being targeted or discriminated against because of their HIV status? What training has been provided to officers from constable to higher ranks to ensure that any knowledge intelligence – information that is known to officers but not stored in SID – is not used to discriminate against people?

“They have identified that GDPR regulations place a greater emphasis on the retention of information, and places the burden on organisations to justify why information is being retained – so can they clarify why the information was retained in the first place, and if not will they refer themselves to the Information Commissioner’s Office?

Mr Sparling added that the charity had only learned of this practice by chance, but said it was a “systematic issue that could have impacted the lives of people living with HIV”.

‘Essential resource’

He added: “We hope that this action will have a positive impact and shows the public that people living with HIV are not contagious.

“The modern reality is that many people living with HIV are on treatment so effective it reduces levels of the virus to a level that is undetectable in the blood, they can’t pass it on to their sexual partners and significantly reduces the risk of transmission through other routes.”

ACC Speirs said: “A recent review of the Scottish Intelligence Database has resulted in Police Scotland amending its practice and policy. We no longer log HIV status as a contagious indicator and existing indicators which detailed HIV status will be removed.

“SID is an essential resource that allows police officers to carry out their role safely and effectively. We regularly review intelligence that is retained to make sure it is appropriate and complies with data laws. Further reviews will be carried out to specifically ensure compliance with this amended policy.”

HIV criminalisation still an issue during COVID-19 pandemic

On 21 February, just prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we celebrated a week where – for the first time in years – we saw no reported cases of HIV criminalisation anywhere in the world.

Soon after we began to notice fewer reports of HIV criminalisation cases and fewer articles related to our collective advocacy.  We wondered at the time whether this may be due, in part, to our previous advocacy successes, athough we thought it was more likely a reflection of the media and the criminal justice system changing their focus to COVID-19.

Certainly, police have been unbelievably busy dealing with ensuring lockdowns and quarantines are followed – some more zealously than others – and courts, as well as parliaments are either closed or dealing only with the most urgent of cases. This is having a concerning impact upon the processing of HIV criminalisation cases, including appeals, leaving those unjustly accused or convicted in limbo and at greater risk of acquiring COVID-19 whilst on remand or in prison.

Now, after several weeks of seeing no HIV-related criminal cases, this past week we have, unfortunately, documented two further HIV-related arrests – a woman in the Rostov region of Russia is accused of passing on HIV to her husband and faces five years in prison; and a man in Louisiana in the United States was arrested after allegedly spitting on an officer and then charged with “intentional exposure to the AIDS virus” after he informed medical staff of his HIV-positive status.

The US news report notes – without obvious irony – the Kafkaesque nature of the law in Louisiana by concluding:

While saliva alone cannot transmit HIV or AIDS, Louisiana law holds that knowingly infected people who spit at first responders can face up to 11 years in prison and/or pay a $6,000 fine.

 

This week, we also saw a remarkably comprehensive article about HIV criminalisation in Tajikistan, which explored how and why the country’s criminal code potentially considers every HIV-positive citizen to be a criminal, what this means for people living with HIV in the country, and how to avoid prosecution as well as ways to organise.

Finally, some good news relating to HIV criminalisation as well as to COVID-19 criminalisation.

In Spain, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of a man accused of criminal HIV transmission noting that evidence pointed to the complainant being aware of his status prior to agreeing to condomless sex, meaning there was consent. 

And in Malta, where it was proposed earlier in the week to add COVID-19 to the list of communicable diseases covered by the law used to criminalise the wilful or negligent spread of HIV and hepatitis, this proposal has since been put on hold, due to very real concerns that this may do more harm than good for public health, as well as create difficulties around proof in court.

The Times of Malta reports:

The law could also strain the already stretched law enforcement resources if they suddenly had to deal with a flood of reports over possible criminal spreading of the virus.

“In essence, this seems like a good idea at first glance but it presents a number of problems,” one government minister privy to the discussions said.

The possibility of such a reform had not even been brought before Cabinet yet, he said, adding he understood it “has been put on the back burner for now”. 

“We have bigger fish to fry, right now.”

 

If only other punitive-minded governments – and overly-zealous law enforcement officers – around the world thought this way about COVID-19 and other communicable diseases right now, including, of course, HIV.

UNAIDS “extremely concerned” by new COVID-19 laws that target people living with or vulnerable to HIV

This week, echoing the concerns of the HIV JUSTICE WORLDWIDE Steering Committee, amongst others, UNAIDS issued a strongly worded press release condemning governments for abusing the current state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic for overreaching their powers and enacting laws that target people who are living with, or vulnerable, to HIV.

“In times of crisis, emergency powers and agility are crucial; however, they cannot come at the cost of the rights of the most vulnerable,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “Checks and balances that are the cornerstone of the rule of law must be exercised in order to prevent misuse of such powers. If not, we may see a reversal of much of the progress made in human rights, the right to health and the AIDS response.”

Notably, UNAIDS singles out EU member states, Hungary and Poland.

In Hungary, a new bill has been introduced to remove the right of people to change their gender and name on official documents in order to ensure conformity with their gender identity, in clear breach of international human rights to legal recognition of gender identity.

In Poland, a fast-tracked amendment to the criminal law that increases the penalties for HIV exposure, non-disclosure and transmission to at least six months in prison and up to eight years in prison has been passed—a clear contravention of international human rights obligations to remove HIV-specific criminal laws.

In addition, UNAIDS condemns overly zealous policing that is especially targeting key populations already stigmatised, marginalised, and criminalised.

UNAIDS is also concerned by reports from a number of countries of police brutality in enforcing measures, using physical violence and harassment and targeting marginalized groups, including sex workers, people who use drugs and people who are homeless. The use of criminal law and violence to enforce movement restrictions is disproportionate and not evidence-informed. Such tactics have been known to be implemented in a discriminatory manner and have a disproportionate effect on the most vulnerable: people who for whatever reason cannot stay at home, do not have a home or need to work for reasons of survival.

They single out Uganda where “23 people connected with a shelter for providing services for the LGBTI community have been arrested—19 have been charged with a negligent act likely to spread infection or disease. Those 19 are being held in prison without access to a court, legal representation or medication.”

They also highlight Kenya as a model of cjvil society rapid response to human rights concerns following the release of an advisory note “calling for a focus on community engagement and what works for prevention and treatment rather than disproportionate and coercive approaches.”

The statement concludes:

While some rights may be limited during an emergency in order to protect public health and safety, such restrictions must be for a legitimate aim—in this case, to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. They must be proportionate to that aim, necessary, non-arbitrary, evidence-informed and lawful. Each order/law or action by law enforcement must also be reviewable by a court of law. Law enforcement powers must likewise be narrowly defined, proportionate and necessary.

UNAIDS urges all countries to ensure that any emergency laws and powers are limited to a reasonable period of time and renewable only through appropriate parliamentary and participatory processes. Strict limits on the use of police powers must be provided, along with independent oversight of police action and remedies through an accountability mechanism. Restrictions on rights relating to non-discrimination on the basis of HIV status, sexual and reproductive health, freedom of speech and gender identity detailed above do not assist with the COVID-19 response and are therefore not for a legitimate purpose. UNAIDS calls on countries to repeal any laws put in place that cannot be said to be for the legitimate aim of responding to or controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNAIDS recently produced a new guidance document that draws on key lessons from the response to the HIV epidemic: Rights in the time of COVID-19: lessons from HIV for an effective, community-led response.   

France: HIV organisations mobilise to halt sensationalism of news coverage in police violence case

Spit and HIV: the violence of words

Automatic translation via Deepl.com. For original article in French, please scroll down.

Spit and HIV: the violence of words

Following the release of an amateur video in which a police officer stopped and violently beat a demonstrator, a spokesperson for the police union Alliance, in defence of the officer involved, claimed that the person stopped spat blood in the officer’s face and said, “I have AIDS, you’re going to die. Since then, the victim has denied living with HIV and having threatened the police officers with “contamination” by spitting on them.

The case has swelled up in some media outlets, which have taken up the police unionist’s explanations without deflating the sensationalism surrounding the “danger” of spitting on an HIV-positive person.

Faced with this, many of his AIDS activists and associations of people living with HIV intervened to put the facts in their place, regardless of the position of responsibility that existed during the arrest. “The rapidity of news coverage regularly implies approximations or, worse, leaving room for false beliefs. This is particularly true with regard to HIV/AIDS. But to allow false ideas to be conveyed is to feed the serophobia that plays into the hands of the epidemic,” explains AIDES in its press release published in emergency on 20 January.

On Twitter, the president of Act Up-Paris, Marc-Antoine Bartoli, is moved and says that “aggression or “the attack on AIDS does not exist”. A few weeks ago Act Up New York had to deal with a similar case. It is important to remember that people who test positive for HIV have access to treatment that makes their viral load undetectable and cannot transmit HIV. First fact. The second is that, first and foremost, “the modes of contamination are sexual secretions, breast milk, blood. Saliva does not transmit HIV. Moreover, HIV has very low resistance to the open air. After five to ten seconds in the open air, a drop of blood no longer contains the virus,” AIDES recalls.

These simple indications would have deflated a Serophobic line of defence from the outset, continuing to play on irrational fears. “It is everyone’s responsibility to recall this information as soon as necessary. Without this, stigmatization and false beliefs will not be able to stop,” continues AIDES. And the media have their role to play in informing. This is what Fred Colby, a gay activist who is openly HIV-positive and committed to AIDES, is calling for: “People living with HIV are not walking viruses. People living with HIV are not walking viruses. The media needs to think before they publish this kind of thing or qualify it by talking about treatment and undetectable viral load. Without this prerequisite, this spitting case is likely to come back in the news, without any lessons being learned from the previous one. Again to the detriment of HIV-positive people.


Crachat et VIH : la violence des maux

À la suite de la diffusion d’une vidéo amateur, dans laquelle un policier interpelle et frappe violemment un manifestant, le porte-parole du syndicat de policiers Alliance affirmait, pour la défense de l’officier mis en cause, que la personne interpellée aurait craché du sang au visage du policier en disant : « J’ai le sida, tu vas crever ». Depuis, la victime réfute vivre avec le VIH et avoir menacé les policiers de « contamination » en leur crachant dessus. L’affaire a enflé dans certains médias, qui ont repris à leur compte les explications du syndicaliste de la police, sans pour autant dégonfler le sensationnalisme autour du « danger » d’un crachat d’une personne séropositive au VIH. Face à cela, de nombreux-ses militants-es de la lutte contre le sida et des associations de personnes vivant avec sont intervenus pour remettre les faits à leur place, peu importe la position sur les responsabilités en cours durant l’arrestation. « La rapidité de traitement de l’actualité implique régulièrement des approximations ou pire, de laisser la place à de fausses croyances. C’est particulièrement vrai concernant le VIH/sida. Or, laissez véhiculer de fausses idées, c’est nourrir la sérophobie qui fait le jeu de l’épidémie », explique AIDES dans son communiqué publié en urgence, le 20 janvier. Sur Twitter, le président d’Act Up-Paris, Marc-Antoine Bartoli, s’émeut et indique que « l’agression ou « l’attaque au sida n’existe pas ». Il y a quelques semaines Act up New-York a eu à faire à un cas similaire. Il est important de rappeler que les personnes dépistées séropositives ont accès à un traitement qui rend leur charge virale indétectable et ne peuvent pas transmette le VIH. Premier fait. Le second, c’est qu’avant toute chose, « les modes de contamination sont les sécrétions sexuelles, le lait maternel, le sang. La salive ne transmet pas le VIH. De plus, le VIH a une très faible résistance à l’air libre. Après cinq à dix secondes à l’air libre, une goutte de sang ne contient plus de virus », rappelle AIDES. Ces simples indications auraient permis de dégonfler d’emblée une ligne de défense sérophobe, continuant de jouer sur les peurs irrationnelles. « Il est de la responsabilité de toutes et tous de rappeler dès que nécessaires ces informations. Sans cela, les stigmatisations et fausses croyances ne pourront pas cesser », continue AIDES. Et les médias ont leur rôle d’information à jouer. C’est ce que réclame Fred Colby, activiste gay, ouvertement séropositif et engagé à AIDES: « Les personnes vivant avec le VIH ne sont pas des virus ambulants. Il faut que les médias réfléchissent avant de publier ce genre de choses ou nuancent en parlant du traitement et de la charge virale indétectable ». Sans ce préalable, cette affaire du crachat risque de revenir dans l’actualité, sans qu’aucune leçon ne soit tirée de la précédente. Au détriment, encore, des personnes séropositives.

Australia: Mandatory testing laws in Western Australia are not appropriate in cases of spitting and are based on misinformation

HIV experts fear ‘spitting laws’ being misused by police

About 100 people a year have been forced to be tested for HIV in Western Australia since so-called spitting laws were introduced four years ago.

HIV advocates have called for the reversal of so-called “spitting laws”, which they say are being misused in some states and increasing stigma.  

An audit, released on Thursday, showed Western Australia had the highest rates of mandatory testing of a person whose bodily fluids come into contact with police or emergency service workers, such as through biting or spitting.

In less than four years since the laws were introduced, 377 people in WA have been forced to get tested.

While in Victoria, where a medical specialist makes the decision, no mandatory tests have been ordered.

The audit, conducted by the National Association of People with HIV Australia, recommended the laws be repealed, describing their introduction in the first place was “perplexing and problematic”.

“Although violence against emergency services workers may be increasing, risk of HIV transmission is not,” the report stated.

“If anything, effective treatments mean that the majority of people living with HIV in Australia have a low or undetectable viral load, making transmission unlikely or impossible in the types of circumstances covered by these laws.”

HIV Justice Network senior policy adviser Sally Cameron said the audit’s WA findings were alarming.

“We think it is likely that the tests are being misused. It’s unclear whether there is any ill intent or not,” Ms Cameron told SBS News.

Ms Cameron stressed that they did not condone violence in any circumstance, particularly against emergency service personnel.

“For us, this isn’t an issue of us and them, our priority is that people are not unduly stressed by fear of HIV. That people do not go through stress and trauma when in fact there is no risk,” she said.

She called for better training of police officers and judicial oversight of decisions to force someone to be tested.

“This isn’t about saying they should be able to do whatever they want. The issue is whether it’s appropriate to do something as invasive as a blood test when in fact that there is no risk that anything’s concerned.”

Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine policy director Scott McGill said the so-called spitting laws were based on misinformation about the risk of transmission.

“Unfortunately our laws and policy are not only behind the curve in terms of that evidence, but also going in the wrong direction,” he told SBS News. 

“If we keep going down this path… we’re going to inadvertently fuel stigma, fuel fear which really means people won’t come forward for testing and treatment, will be fearful of what some of the consequences are and increases anxiety on both sides of the equation.”

At the time the laws were passed, then-police minister Liza Harvey told the ABC they were overdue and would help protect police officers.

She said the testing would assist in the diagnosis, clinical management and treatment of the exposed police officer. 

In April, the alleged violent assault of a police officer in Sydney, who was spat at and bitten, reignited debate about mandatory testing laws.  

NSW is one of only two jurisdictions in Australia that hasn’t introduced  in response to concerns about rising assaults on police and emergency service workers. 

President of the Police Association of NSW Tony King told 10 Daily the officer faced months of uncertainty as she waited for the results of an infectious diseases test.  

“This officer like many others will now have to change their lifestyle for fear of passing on possible infection. Can you imagine explaining to your own child why you can’t give them a kiss goodnight?” he said in April. 

But HIV experts said such claims were myths based on misinformation.  

“The likelihood of anything actually happening is extraordinarily low and we don’t have any recorded events of occupational exposure,” Mr McGill said. 

UK: Avon & Somerset police withdraw untrue claims that HIV could be contracted through spitting

Police finally change false HIV claims after being accused of ‘preying on people’s prejudices’ 

Avon and Somerset Police falsely claimed that HIV could be transferred through saliva

Bristol’s police force has finally changed untrue claims it made about HIV, eight months after it was accused of “preying on people’s prejudices.”

Avon and Somerset Police announced last November that it would be rolling out controversial spit hoods to be used on suspects to protect officers.

But during the announcement, the force made untrue claims that HIV could be contracted through spitting, causing outrage amongst campaign groups.

The force did apologise for “any offence caused” to anyone living with HIV, but then repeated the claim that Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can be transferred through spit.

Now eight months after police made the claim, Avon and Somerset Constabulary has now confirmed that HIV will not be used as a reason to introduce spit guards after national guidance was changed.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cullen said: “I’d like to thank both charities and our communities for the advice and feedback they gave us following our announcement last year.

“We apologised unreservedly at the time if we caused any offence to people living with HIV.

“It has never been our intention to reinforce stigma. Every day we work to reduce stigma and discrimination experienced by communities and individuals who are victims of hate crime in all its guises.”

In January, 2018 Bristol Live reported that Avon and Somerset Police said the false claims about the transfer of HIV were taken from national guidlines.

The Bristol wing of the HIV advocacy group ACTup! Launched a petition calling for the force to retract the statement.

A spokesperson for the group said officers deserve not to be spat at while working and the group is not calling for the recall of spit hoods but raised issues with the “poorly researched” press announcement.

ACC Cullen added: “Our aim has never been to focus attention on people living with health conditions, but to target people who use spit as a weapon.

“We assured our communities we would seek to ensure that we learn from this and would share our learnings across the police service, providing clarity and direction.

“We also invited Brigstowe to help support our training for officers and staff

“I’m delighted that this has now been done.”

The National Police Chiefs Council, which issues guidance to police forces across the UK, said in January the advice on spit guards has not changed since it published a report in March 2017, but specific guidance on HIV was sent to police forces after feedback was received by Avon and Somerset.

The police chiefs’ council guidance on spit guards released in March last year said the national picture for blood-borne viruses like HIV affecting officers was “unclear “.

HIV is found in many bodily fluids of a sufferer including semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood and breast milk.

The disease is most commonly contracted through unprotected sex and the sharing of needles. NHS England states HIV cannot be contracted through saliva.

Spit hoods made of mesh are shaped like a plastic bag and are put over the heads of suspects who had threatened to spit, have attempted to spit or have spat before.

 

US: Kentucky bill making it a felony to expose police officers to bodily fluids goes to full House for consideration after being approved by House Committee

KENTUCKY (2/15/18) — A bill that would make it a felony to intentionally expose a law enforcement officer to bodily fluids or bodily waste was approved yesterday by the House Judiciary Committee.

Kentucky jailers and some other officials are protected against someone intentionally causing them to come into contact with bodily fluids and waste, but that “there’s a gap in the law that doesn’t protect our police officers,” said Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, the sponsor of House Bill 193.

The legislation would carry stiffer penalties if the bodily fluids or waste carry—or could carry—a communicable disease, including hepatitis C virus or HIV. Both crimes would be considered felony assault under the proposal.

Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge # 4 President Jason Rothermund told the committee creating a crime for intentionally forcing bodily fluids or waste onto a police or other law enforcement officer, with the increased penalty for communicable disease, will help prosecution of such acts. Current statutes for disorderly conduct and wanton endangerment are not adequate for prosecution, he said.

“We don’t want them (the officers) to have to go find some obscure charge,” said Rothermund, but instead want behavior specifically addressed in law.

Lee said he would be willing to consider floor amendments that would ratchet down some of the bill’s penalties to misdemeanors after some lawmakers, including Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, expressed concern with the felony provisions.

Nemes, who has a brother who is a peace officer, said he believes more protection is needed but that he believes the penalties proposed in HB 193 are too harsh.

Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, had concerns that the scope of the bill is wider than it needs to be.

“Because there’s not a definition of what a communicable disease is and there’s no nexus between the exposure to the fluids and actual transmission of the disease, I’m going to have to vote no today,” she said.

Among those voting for the bill was Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, who said the risk of transmitting communicable disease through bodily fluids and waste is real and carries consequences.

“Clearly there should be a consequence to putting that officer in harm’s way and making that officer go through a battery of testing and unknown situations with their spouse, etc.,” he said.

HB 193 now goes to the full House for consideration.

Published in SurfKY News on February 15, 2018

 

UK: Avon and Somerset police statement over risk of HIV from spitting allegedly based on National Police guidelines

Police say false HIV claims over spitting were taken from national guidelines

Avon and Somerset Police still have not retracted their statement despite pressure from campaigners

The police force for Bristol and the surrounding areas say false claims made about the transfer of HIV were taken from national guidelines.

Avon and Somerset Police announced last year it would be introducing the use of spit guards in 2018 to remove the risk of officers catching diseases like the human immunodeficiency virus or hepatitis.

However, campaign groups were quick to point out HIV cannot be passed on through saliva and accused the force of “praying on people’s prejudices.”

The force did apologise for “any offence caused” to people living with HIV or Hepatitis B or C but still has not retracted the statements despite calls from campaigners to do so.

In January 24, a Freedom of Information request revealed no Avon and Somerset Police officers had caught an infection disease after being spat at since 2012/13.

When asked by the Bristol Post if the force would retract the statements about HIV, a spokesman said on January 25: “The information we used previously in the roll-out of spit guards was based on National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) guidance.

“Following feedback from the public and consultation with local charities, Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Cullen asked the NPCC to seek medical opinion. As a result of ACC Cullen’s representations the NPCC has altered its guidance to forces.”

The Bristol wing of the HIV advocacy group ACTup! Launched a petition calling for the force to retract the statement.

A spokesperson for the group said officers deserve not to be spat at while working and the group is not calling for the recall of spit hoods but raised issues with the “poorly researched” press announcement.

On November 17 Avon and Somerset Police announced it would be introducing the use of ‘spit hoods’ across the force area from next year. The hoods made of mesh are shaped like a plastic bag and are put over the heads of suspects who had threatened to spit, have attempted to spit or have spat before.

The National Police Chiefs Council, which issues guidance to police forces across the UK, said the advice on spit guards has not changed since it published a report in March 2017, but specific guidance on HIV was sent to police forces after feedback was received by Avon and Somerset.

A spokesperson said: “Our position paper on this was published back in March last year and our overall position on this has not changed. However, after receiving feedback from colleagues in Avon and Somerset we wrote to forces to give specific guidance on HIV and spit guards – entirely in line with our position.”

The police chief’s council guidance on spit guards released in March last year says the national picture for blood-borne viruses like HIV affecting officers is “unclear “.

It adds: “There are annually a very significant number of officers who are receiving precautionary treatment to prevent blood-borne viruses initial following spitting and biting incidents. Some of this treatment is intrusive, debilitating and can have a significant impact on officers’ personal lives.”

The conclusion reads: “The NPCC position is that the risk of transfer of blood-borne viruses through spitting or biting is very low, however the impact of infection would be extremely high.”

HIV is found in many bodily fluids of a sufferer including semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood and breast milk.

The disease is most commonly contracted through unprotected sex and the sharing of needles. NHS England states HIV cannot be contracted through saliva.

Published in the Bristol Post on Jan 30, 2018

Malawi: Police officers urged to stop criminalising sex-workers due to their HIV status

Malawi law enforcers urged to desist from criminalizing sex-workers over HIV/AIDS status

LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)-The Malawi Police Services’ (MPS) officers have been urged to desist from criminalizing sex-workers due to their HIV and AIDS status when they come to conflict with the law.

This reduce cases of defaulting the drug prolonged-life, ARVs when are on remand cell as they become uncooperative with the law-enforcers

The call will also enhance cordial relationship men in uniform they have with sex-worker as they harbor criminals when playing their trade.

In an exclusive interview with The Maravi Post in the sidelines of World AIDSDAY that falls on December 1st yearly, Priest Mpemba, Kanengo Police Model station HIV/AIDS Coordinator, said time was ripe for officers handle sex-workers in line with human rights principles.

Mpemba who is also DNA Forensic Investigator observed that some law-enforcers criminalize sex-workers during sweeping exercises due to their serial status.

The HIV/AIDS coordinator added that the laws of land do not criminalize sex-work but the act of being conflict with the constitution including robbery and violence among others.

On legalization of sex work in the country, the DNA Forensic Investigators said the matter was a policy issue which the county’s leadership must trade carefully regarding to how the society perceives sex workers.

With extensive sensitization the station is taking on HIV/AIDS, Mpemba expects a cordial relationship between the police and the public in ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country.

On skills handling suspects living with HIV and AIDS, the coordinator said that the station expects fewer lawsuits.

“This year’s World AIDS DAY commemoration must focus as well on how sex-workers are being treated in the society. They are into that trade with various reasons but their rights must be respected as human beings. This is the reason the station using its own resources has been into intensive sensitization on the virus.

“Our officers should also treat suspects especially those living with the virus with dignity as human that they continue taking medication when are on remand. This will reduce drug defaulters and ease lawsuits the station receives,” says Mpemba.

Speaking Friday on World AIDS Day, at the Blantyre Youth Centre The Minister of Health and Population, Atupele Muluzi said that right to health is a fundamental human right, everybody has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

This year’s commemoration was under the theme ‘Right to Health: Access to Quality HIV Prevention and Treatment Services”.

Before the function, the Minister opened Umodzi Family Centre at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. The centre will help facilitate HIV testing and treatment, TB screaming and offer reproductive health services.

AIDS is no longer the high-profile public health menace it once was thanks to the discovery in 2011 that antiretroviral treatment can not only suppress HIV in the bloodstream and reduce the risk of spreading the virus, but also, some experts predict, eventually end the epidemic.

Published in the Maravi Post on Dec 3, 2017

UK: Police accused of fear mongering by playing up the risks of HIV and hepatitis C transmission through spitting

Police accused of exaggerating risks of HIV to introduce spit guards

Force plans to issue guards to officers from January, saying people infected with blood-borne viruses use spitting as a weapon

A police force has been accused of fear mongering and stigmatising sufferers of hepatitis C and HIV by playing up the risks of transmission of blood-borne viruses as a reason to introduce spit guards.

Avon and Somerset police announced their plan to issue spit guards to all operational officers from January next year. “Each day we face being spat at, putting us at risk of HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis and the degrading assault can have a lasting psychological impact,” said Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Cullen.

Spit guards are tight mesh hoods that officers can pull over the heads of suspects resisting detention to stop them from spitting or biting. They are used by 25 forces but have been criticised by human rights groups.

Avon and Somerset’s announcement came with an account by an officer, named John, who said people infected with blood-borne viruses use spitting as a “weapon”. He described an incident in which he arrested a drunk woman who had hepatitis C after she attacked a paramedic.

“She was continually spitting, spit that was bloody. It was disgusting; she was trying to infect us,” he said, recounting how officers donned riot gear to protect themselves as they stripped the detainee for her safety. “After the shift we all went home to our kids wondering what we were taking home.”

Rachel Halford, the deputy chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said she agreed that police should be protected from health risks, but rejected the force’s implication that the virus could be transmitted through spitting.

“Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus and is therefore only transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. The virus cannot be transmitted via spit,” she said.

“Stigma and misinformation about hepatitis C and other blood-borne viruses is a key challenge faced by patients, who are already disproportionately from the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in society. Many patients report feeling ‘dirty’ and experiencing social exclusion due to misinformation about transmission risks.”

Kat Smithson, the director of policy and campaigns at NAT (National Aids Trust), said Avon and Somerset’s claims about HIV and hepatitis C were wrong and stigmatised people with the conditions.

“HIV is irrelevant to the debate about spit hoods because spitting simply is not an HIV transmission route,” she said. “In the history of the epidemic, there has never been a case of HIV being passed on through spitting, even when the spit contains blood.”

According to Avon and Somerset police, the restraints will be used only when a person threatens to spit, has attempted to spit or has already spat, and only when officers’ body-worn cameras are switched on.

Despite those safeguards, Deborah Coles, the director of Inquest, raised concerns over their introduction to another police force. “There should be no doubt spit hoods are a use of force and have the potential to cause acute trauma and injury,” she said.

“We know from our work that mental health concerns or other difficulties often sit behind agitated behaviour. Our fear is spit hoods will become the default response and used against vulnerable detainees.

“We had hoped that after the restraint death of James Herbert, Avon and Somerset police would have prioritised safer, more humane policing methods with a focus on de-escalation and detainee welfare.”

Avon and Somerset’s police federation backed the decision, which the force said was in support of the national federation’s proposed assault on emergency workers (offences) bill.

Vince Howard, the chairman of Avon and Somerset police federation, said: “This option affords those officers, who are increasingly subject to this abhorrent act, the opportunity to protect themselves from the risks of serious communicable diseases.”

Data for spitting incidents reported on the Welfare Information Form shows there have been 79 spitting incidents out of 487 recorded assaults since April, which a force spokesman said was a sharp increase on previous reports.